An early appointment to the US Senate isn't doing Dean Heller's prospects for a full term any favors. Heller's statewide popularity has declined significantly over the first 7 months of 2011 and although he still leads Shelley Berkley by 3 points that's the closest we've ever found the race and a far cry from the 13 point lead he had over her in January.
The first time we polled Nevada this year 46% of voters had a favorable opinion of Heller to 23% with a negative one. He had a greater than 2:1 favorability ratio with independents at 47/23 and had almost as many Democrats (22%) holding a positive opinion of him as an unfavorable one (31%).
That picture has changed significantly. Now Heller's approval rating (not the exact same thing as the favorability we were measuring earlier in the year but pretty similar) is just 38% with 35% of voters disapproving of him. Independents still like him but only narrowly, breaking down 41/32 in their support for him. His appeal to Democrats has pretty much evaporated- their opinions of him now break down 12/59.
As Heller's personal popularity has declined so has his lead over Shelley Berkley. He led her 51-38 in January, now that advantage is only 46-43. What was a 28 point advantage with independents then is now only 3 points at 44-41. And where he was winning over 20% of the Democratic vote back in January, now he gets only 11% across party lines.
51% of the undecideds between Berkley and Heller are Democrats, while only 25% are Republicans. The high level of undecided Democrats is likely a function of Berkley being unknown to 33% of voters in the state. Assuming those voters would end up supporting their party's candidate in the end the race would be dead even.
Primary numbers we'll release later in the week make it clear that Byron Georgiou has virtually no chance of winning the Democratic Senate nomination but if by some chance he did he would start out 17 points behind Heller at 48-31. Georgiou has threatened in recent days to run as an independent but it's not really clear where his support would come from if he did that.
Only 27 respondents to our poll had a favorable opinion of Georgiou and if anything they're Republican leaning- they support Heller 61-39 over Berkley and go for Mitt Romney 46-39 over Barack Obama. It's too small a sample size to make much out of but it would seem to dispel the notion that Georgiou running third party would be particularly bad news for Berkley.
When we started polling this race at the start of the year it looked like it leaned toward the GOP but with each new survey now it's become more and more clear that it's a sheer toss up.
Full results here